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Archive for the ‘Terrorism’ Category

We can’t let heinous attacks overseas obscure our homegrown terrorism problem

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Update: Recent example of homegrown terrorist problem. More details in this report. The terrorist is a white supremacist. I will mention that when George W. Bush was president, he tasked DHS with developing reports on the threats of domestic terrorism from left-wing and right-wing groups. The report on left-wing terrorism (e.g., attacking loggers) was issued with no problems, but when the report on right-wing terrorism came out (after the election: Janet Napolitano was Secretary of Homeland Security by then. The GOP went beserk and GOP members of Congress demanded that the report be withdrawn.

The reason for that demand is unclear, but the charitable interpretation is that the GOP was thinking that if right-wing terrorism was not mentioned, it would go away. (Few have accused the GOP in Congress of having much in the way of intelligence.) But it did not. I think the report would be interesting to see, but the GOP today is worse than the GOP then, and there is no way that the GOP will address right-wing terrorists. Instead, the GOP does all it can to encourage them, and is willing to get its own hands dirty (as in body-slamming a reporter for asking questions in public). /update

Another update: “The U.S. Has a Homegrown Terrorist Problem.”

Chauncey DeVega writes at Salon:

During a speech delivered in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, President Donald Trump told Muslims to “Drive out the terrorists. Drive out the extremists. Drive them out of your places of worship.”

There is no question that terrorist groups representing a perverted form of Islam have caused mayhem and destruction. This week’s heinous bombing in Manchester, England, that killed 22 people is one glaring example — although it’s worth noting that most of the violence committed by ISIS and similar groups has been directed against their fellow Muslims. (It’s not yet clear whether the Manchester perpetrator had any significant connection to militant groups in the Arab or Muslim world.)

But Trump and too many other Americans are often silent when it comes to the terrorists and extremists in their own country.

In the United States, right-wing domestic terrorists have killed hundreds of people since 2007. Moreover, federal law enforcement and other agencies have repeatedly warned that terrorism by right-wing extremists affiliated with the sovereign citizens movement, white supremacists and other hate groups poses a greater threat than violence by Islamic terrorists. Since Sept. 11, 2001, more people have been killed and injured in the United States by white right-wing domestic terrorists than Muslim extremists.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has also documented a record increase in hate crimes against Jews, Muslims and people of color that began with the start of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and has continued through the first months of his presidency.

Last Saturday Richard Collins III, a 23-year old African-American college student and newly commissioned U.S. Army lieutenant, was stabbed to death in an apparently random attack at the University of Maryland campus.

The accused killer is a white man named Sean Urbanski, who was apparently a member of an online white supremacist group called Alt Reich Nation. The university police chief, David Mitchell, described it this way: “When I looked at the information that’s contained on that website, suffice to say that it’s despicable. It shows extreme bias against women, Latinos, members of the Jewish faith, and especially African-Americans. . . . Which brings up questions as to the motive in this case. Knowing that, we will continue to look for digital evidence, among other items of evidentiary value.”

As reported by The Daily Beast, BuzzFeed and other sources, Urbanski was apparently a Trump supporter who commented upon and “upvoted” racist, nativist and anti-Muslim posts and memes in various online forums.

Apparently, Trump’s commands to “drive out the terrorists” and “extremists” apply in distant Muslim-majority nations of the Middle East but not to white people in the United States.

This act of probable racial terrorism occurred during a political moment when the safety and security of black and brown Americans is under threat from their own government. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 May 2017 at 10:02 am

Trump Team Planning Possible Retaliation for Classified Leak Allegations

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Jenna McLaughlin reports in Foreign Policy:

President Donald Trump’s inner circle is war-gaming how best to respond to the Washington Post’s bombshell report that he shared classified intelligence with the Russians about an Islamic State plot, sensitive information reportedly passed to the United States by Israel.

One option under consideration? Attack former President Barack Obama and his administration over their handling of sensitive data, in particular through one information-sharing program regarding cybersecurity threats.

According to a source with knowledge of a White House meeting that took place Wednesday morning, Trump’s team is considering launching an investigation into a Department of Homeland Security program that shares information on cyberattacks in an effort to coordinate globally on countering digital threats, insinuating that it inappropriately opened up streams of sensitive data to Russia and other nonallies. Another option under consideration is placing a story in the media about the program, similarly accusing it of sharing sensitive information.

The White House told Foreign Policy that it was not aware of any such meeting or discussions with Russia to participate in that information-sharing program.

The program in question, known as the Automated Indicator Sharing capability, allows companies to provide information about potential cyberattackers, like IP addresses and emails, to the U.S. government and international partners. The Department of Homeland Security is working on expanding the program to sharing “characteristics of cyberattacks” to help “identify and block adversary methods that we’ve never seen before,” wrote Scott McConnell, a department spokesman, in an email to FP.

The administration’s approach in this instance is a “bag of crazy cats,” the source with knowledge of the meeting said.

Another source close to the White House confirmed to FP that Trump and his team have been interested in targeting the Homeland Security program for the past couple weeks. Nothing has been decided, the source added, but it’s an option on the table.

Sources with knowledge of the program found the idea absurd.

One former Department of Homeland Security official, when contacted by FP and told about the Trump team’s plans, laughed in response. “That doesn’t make sense,” he said.

“It seems ludicrous,” the former official added.

While there is some cybersecurity information that the United States shares around the globe, including with Russia and China, “there’s certain information out there that’s beneficial for everyone to have, like, ‘Hey, this Windows program has a bug.’ When we share cybersecurity information with the Russians, we’re protecting their systems, making sure that no one hijacks their planes and missiles.”

Additionally, the former official said, nothing the department has in its information-sharing program is particularly sensitive. It would just be “indicators of an attack,” the source said. “Nothing is going to be vital to national security.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 May 2017 at 3:50 pm

Why your next Echo command should be: ‘Disconnect me from the internet’

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Tim Johnson writes at McClatchy:

Dr. Herbert Lin, one of the nation’s pre-eminent thinkers on cybersecurity policy, shuns the internet-connected devices that fill some American homes.

He’ll have nothing to do with “smart” refrigerators, hands-free home speakers he can call by name, intelligent thermostats and the like.

“People say to me, ‘How can you have a doctorate in physics from MIT and not trust in technology?’ And I look at them and say, ‘How can I have a doctorate in physics from MIT and trust technology?’ ” Lin said.

Part of what he distrusts is the “internet of things,” and the ease with which hackers can penetrate “smart” devices with digital worms and shanghai them into massive robotic networks to launch crippling digital attacks or generate ever greater quantities of spam.

It is a mistrust based on mathematics. Internet-enabled devices are exploding in number. Gartner, a research giant in technology, says the devices will climb from 6.4 billion at the end of last year to 25 billion by 2020. Such growth sharply augments the power of hidden robotic networks, or botnets.

[RELATED: If the NSA can be hacked, is anything safe?]

Now, an unseen battle unfolds. Weaponized digital worms are entering the scene and infecting masses of devices that obediently await instructions from a remote master to spring to action, possibly a new botnet attack.

The threat from botnets is so serious that FBI Director James Comey brought them up at a Senate hearing last week, saying the “zombie armies” created from internet devices can do tremendous harm.

(RELATED: This new Amazon device can give you fashion advice. But, warns UNC prof, what else it is finding out?)

“Last month, the FBI – working with our partners, with the Spanish national police – took down a botnet called the Kelihos botnet and locked up the Russian hacker behind that botnet,” Comey said. “He’s now in jail in Spain, and the good people’s computers who had been lashed to that zombie army have now been freed from it.”

Further botnet attacks are inevitable. . .

Continue reading.

Do read the entire article. One feels a sense of urgency. Later in the article:

Now a new worm, dubbed Hajime – Japanese for “beginning” – is spreading.

The Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab estimated in late April that the Hajime worm had already penetrated 300,000 devices worldwide and could rally them into a botnet army at a moment’s notice.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 May 2017 at 7:09 pm

Did the Justice Department Really Support the President’s Misstatement to Congress? Let’s Find Out

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Benjamin Wittes writes at Lawfare:

Back in Februrary, in his address to a Joint Session of Congress, Donald Trump made an arresting claim: “according to data provided by the Department of Justice, the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offense since 9/11 came here from outside of our country.”

Last week, Lawfare ran a series ofarticles by Nora Ellingsen and Lisa Daniels raising serious questions about the veracity of this claim. I strongly recommend readers read these posts in their entirety, but for those who may have missed them, the authors poured through a large public list of terrorism cases released by the Justice Department’s National Security Division to determine which defendants did and did not come “here from outside of our country.” Their findings are rich across a bunch of different axes, but for present purpose, one conclusion is key: “The data Trump cited in his speech to the Joint Session of Congress simply don’t support his claims that a ‘vast majority’ of individuals on the list came from outside the United States—unless, that is, you include individuals who were forcibly brought to the United States in order to be prosecuted and exclude all domestic terrorism cases.”

To be more precise, here’s what they found:

In some very technical sense, [Trump’s statement] is true. Of the 455 persons, 132 are U.S.-born and 323 were born abroad. So yes, since 2001, a substantial majority of terrorist defendants have been born abroad.

But there’s a big problem: 100 of the 323 persons born abroad were extradited, or brought, to the United States for prosecution. This is a group of persons that the U.S. quite literally imported for purposes of prosecution. Including such people in the count of foreign-born folks convicted of terrorism-related crimes in the U.S. is a little like considering Chinese made products domestic products because we bought them and brought them here. Excluding that group leaves 220 foreign-born persons, which is not quite a majority at all, let alone an overwhelming one.

Moreover, the NSD data includes only international terrorism cases, leaving out domestic ones, which grossly biases the analysis:

what would the numbers look like if we excluded extradited subjects while including all of these domestic terrorists—the approach that seems to us the unbiased way to express the real rate at which foreign-born, as opposed to domestic-born, people are committing terrorist or terrorism-related crimes?

If we clean up the data to account for the issues described above, instead of accounting for between 63 and 71 percent of terrorism convictions, foreign-born persons would likely account for between only 18 and 21 percent of terrorism convictions.

I’m going to be very blunt here: I not only believe that the White House made up “alternative facts” about the substance of this matter in a Presidential address to a Joint Session of Congress, I don’t believe that the National Security Division of the Justice Department provided any data or analysis to the White House that could reasonably be read to support the President’s claim. In other words, I believe the President was lying not merely about the underlying facts but about his own Justice Department. Or, in the alternative, I believe it’s possible that the Office of the Attorney General may have supported the White House’s claim. But I think it extraordinarily unlikely that the folks at NSD actually provided data in support of this presidential statement.

Here’s why I believe this: I know a lot of people at NSD, and they are not the sort of people who grossly mischaracterize facts in order to make political points. Indeed, I believe that the folks there have the integrity to raise internally the very issues that Ellingsen and Daniels raised in these pieces. That is, if they were queried about the President’s plans to make this claim, I think it preponderantly likely that they would have made at least the following points that would have cautioned against it:

  • The Justice Department does not keep data at a systematic level (at least not to my knowledge) on where criminal defendants were born. While defendants’ immigration status might be trackable, the history of people “entering” the country and—at some point later, maybe much later—commiting a crime simply isn’t something the department keeps track of.
  • To the extent such data can be reconstructed, as Ellingsen and Daniels reconstructed it, they cannot be said to support the President’s words without tendentious distortion.
  • To the extent you exclude domestic terrorism cases, cases generally not handled by the National Security Division, you grossly bias the inquiry. To the extent you include such cases, you would have to analyze a raft of data that NSD has no reason to keep and does not keep.

I could be wrong about this. Perhaps there is correspondence in which the White House asked for guidance from DOJ on what federal data show, and the Justice Department supported what appears to be an outrageously false presidential statement. But if so, one of two things happened that it’s important for the public to understand. Either there exists some . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 April 2017 at 9:43 am

The Bathtub Fallacy and Risks of Terrorism

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Kenneth Anderson writes at Lawfare:

Bloomberg economics commentator Justin Fox is tired of being told that his chances of getting killed in a terrorist attack are (much) lower than his chances of slipping, falling, and dying in a bathtub. Implication being—suck it up, people, and quit being such irrational babies when it comes to assessing risks from terrorism.

Having also grown weary of hearing some version of this following terrorist attacks or government security responses, I was interested to find out why Fox (who’s a very smart guy) thinks such comparisons should be reckoned a bad form of argument.  Why does he think comparing fatal bathtub accidents and fatal terrorist incidents is fundamentally inapt, to the point of calling it “The Bathtub Fallacy”? (For those who don’t know his work, Justin Fox is a sophisticated business and financial journalist with a keen understanding of the literatures of statistics and risk assessment, and he’s also the author of the outstanding revisionist history of the “efficient market hypothesis,” The Myth of the Rational Market, 2009.)

What’s “The Bathtub Fallacy,” according to Fox? Following a terrorist incident or government counter-measure, he says (quoting a recent Financial Times (paywalled) column by its principal political columnist, Janan Ganesh), statistics are “dug out to show that fewer Westerners perish in terror attacks than in everyday mishaps. Slipping in the bath is a tragicomic favourite. We chuckle, share the data and wait for voters and politicians to see sense.” To this Fox adds:

Sure enough, a couple of days later [after Ganesh’s column], there was Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times, making Ganesh’s point for him: “The bottom line is that most years in the U.S., ladders kill far more Americans than Muslim terrorists do. Same with bathtubs. Ditto for stairs. And lightning.” Now, I love statistics. I cite them and sort them and chart them all the time. I even wrote a whole column last month about various causes of untimely death in the U.S. But I agree with Ganesh that comparing annual deaths due to bathtubs and terrorism is a mistake.

The urtext of ordinary accident/terrorism comparisons might be the 2009 book by political scientist John Mueller, Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them.  (Note: Mueller has been an occasional Lawfare contributor, along with his co-author Mark Stewart—quite graciously, given the distance between his views and what I’d describe as the mean of Lawfare posts on these topics.)  Overblown was widely noticed and debated when it appeared in 2009 at the beginning of the first Obama term, and it has remained a book popular among strands of the American left and libertarian right seeking debunking arguments by which to critique the post-9/11 national security apparatus.

Over time versions of the “bathtub” argument have become a bit of a go-to-meme among some journalists and public policy pundits.  It pops up with clock-work regularity each time there’s a terrorist attack, whether in the U.S., Europe, or elsewhere.  But what’s wrong with it?  Maybe it’s correct and useful and not a “fallacy” at all; after all, John Mueller is also a smart guy and he doesn’t think it’s bad reasoning.

This Readings post focuses on the Fox column, however, and the column gives three reasons why Fox thinks the comparison with bathtub slip-and-falls is mistaken and why terrorism is different (it will surprise no one that I broadly agree with them).  The three reasons:

First … terrorism is designed to, you know, sow terror. As Ganesh writes, most people can “intuit the difference between domestic misfortune and political violence. The latter is an assault on the system: the rules and institutions that distinguish society from the state of nature. Bathroom deaths could multiply by 50 without a threat to civil order. The incidence of terror could not.”

Second is that ladders, stairs and bathtubs are undeniably useful. Terrorists, not so much ….

Finally, comparing the incidence of terrorism with that of common accidents is an incompetent and irresponsible use of statistics. Household accidents are lots and lots of small, unrelated events. As a result, while individual accidents can’t be predicted, the overall risk is easy to quantify and is pretty stable from year to year.

Note that each of these reasons aims to show that the risks of the bathtub are different from those of terrorism solely on the basis of the real-world consequences of these events—real-world harms—and not as a matter of each category’s “intrinsic” morality (as many would frame the difference).  There might also be (and for many, most, perhaps nearly all of us, there is) an “intrinsic” moral difference between these two, but Fox’s three reasons broadly fit within “consequentialist” rather than “deontological” ethics. They are situated within the standard utilitarian framework of economists—the standard public policy framework that seeks to identify, and to the extent possible quantify, real-world harms which, whatever else one might want to say about a category such as terrorism, serve to establish a common denominator for policy upon which even those with differing moral views can agree.

Hence, when Ganesh differentiates between mere “misfortune” and “political violence,” he does not argue that political violence is different (for purposes of comparing risks) because of its wickedness as such—that is, because of its intrinsic morality. What matters for comparative policy purposes are the harms terrorism brings about (including the knock-on and remote ones it threatens to bring about). There are fundamental differences between ordinary accidents and terrorism—apart from any judgments of their comparative morality.

Taken together, Fox’s three reasons constitute a quite sweeping indictment of The Bathtub Fallacy; together they also encompass, in a few short sentences, a wide range of ethical and social claims. (I will say more in a follow-up post about the first reason—the threat to institutions that undergird a society’s common social life.)  Fox’s column goes on, however, to focus on the third reason—what he regards as the bad use of statistics in making these comparisons in the first place:

Terrorism is different. There are small incidents, but there are also huge ones in which hundreds or thousands of people die. It’s a fat-tailed distribution, in which outliers are really important. It also isn’t stable: Five or 10 or even 50 years of data isn’t necessarily enough to allow one to predict with confidence what’s going to happen next year. It’s a little like housing prices—the fact that they hadn’t declined on the national level for more than 50 years before 2006 didn’t mean they couldn’t decline. Meanwhile, the widespread belief that they wouldn’t decline made the housing collapse more likely and more costly.

The conclusion that terrorism is different relies importantly on Fox’s characterization as a “fat-tailed distribution” of risks.  Fox cites Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s (of Black Swan fame) extensive writing on this, but then moves on to an interview Fox conducted with Carnegie Mellon University professor Baruch Fischhoff in researching this column.  Who’s Baruch Fischhoff, you ask? Well, among (many) other things, Fischhoff is a “past president of the Society for Risk Analysis, past member of multiple national and international commissions on the risks of terrorism and other bad stuff, and author of lots of books with ‘risk’ in the title.”  Also, Fox adds, he was Daniel Kahneman’s former research assistant at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in the early 1970s, and thus someone “present at the creation of the school of psychological research that has shown how bad we humans can be at processing probabilities.”

“People who just look at the average are doing the analysis wrong,” Fischhoff tells Fox.  Fischhoff does not think, either, that “it’s irrational to fear terrorism more than falling in the bathtub.” Why? It’s different in terms “of the uncertainty and the shape of the distribution, how well we understand it and the possibility of these large-scale events.”  Moreover, Fischhoff adds, in another deceptively simple observation, that “people tolerate risks where they see a benefit.”

While that last point might appear to be a mere truism, it sheds light on how risk analysis fits into cost-benefit analysis.  In public policy analysis, at least, risk analysis is relevant because it tells us not just about determinate costs and benefits, but about . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2017 at 1:16 pm

Posted in Science, Terrorism

Who are the new jihadis?

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Olivier Roy writes in the Guardian:

There is something new about the jihadi terrorist violence of the past two decades. Both terrorism and jihad have existed for many years, and forms of “globalised” terror – in which highly symbolic locations or innocent civilians are targeted, with no regard for national borders – go back at least as far as the anarchist movement of the late 19th century. What is unprecedented is the way that terrorists now deliberately pursue their own deaths.

Over the past 20 years – from Khaled Kelkal, a leader of a plot to bomb Paris trains in 1995, to the Bataclan killers of 2015 – nearly every terrorist in France blew themselves up or got themselves killed by the police. Mohamed Merah, who killed a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012, uttered a variant of a famous statement attributed to Osama bin Laden and routinely used by other jihadis: “We love death as you love life.” Now, the terrorist’s death is no longer just a possibility or an unfortunate consequence of his actions; it is a central part of his plan. The same fascination with death is found among the jihadis who join Islamic State. Suicide attacks are perceived as the ultimate goal of their engagement.

This systematic choice of death is a recent development. The perpetrators of terrorist attacks in France in the 1970s and 1980s, whether or not they had any connection with the Middle East, carefully planned their escapes. Muslim tradition, while it recognises the merits of the martyr who dies in combat, does not prize those who strike out in pursuit of their own deaths, because doing so interferes with God’s will. So, why, for the past 20 years, have terrorists regularly chosen to die? What does it say about contemporary Islamic radicalism? And what does it say about our societies today?

The latter question is all the more relevant as this attitude toward death is inextricably linked to the fact that contemporary jihadism, at least in the west – as well as in the Maghreb and in Turkey – is a youth movement that is not only constructed independently of parental religion and culture, but is also rooted in wider youth culture. This aspect of modern-day jihadism is fundamental.

Wherever such generational hatred occurs, it also takes the form of cultural iconoclasm. Not only are human beings destroyed, statues, places of worship and books are too. Memory is annihilated. “Wiping the slate clean,” is a goal common to Mao Zedong’s Red Guards, the Khmer Rouge and Isis fighters. As one British jihadi wrote in a recruitment guide for the organisation: “When we descend on the streets of London, Paris and Washington … not only will we spill your blood, but we will also demolish your statues, erase your history and, most painfully, convert your children who will then go on to champion our name and curse their forefathers.”

While all revolutions attract the energy and zeal of young people, most do not attempt to destroy what has gone before. The Bolshevik revolution decided to put the past into museums rather than reduce it to ruins, and the revolutionary Islamic Republic of Iran has never considered blowing up Persepolis.

This self-destructive dimension has nothing to do with the politics of the Middle East. It is even counterproductive as a strategy. Though Isis proclaims its mission to restore the caliphate, its nihilism makes it impossible to reach a political solution, engage in any form of negotiation, or achieve any stable society within recognised borders.

The caliphate is a fantasy. It is the myth of an ideological entity constantly expanding its territory. Its strategic impossibility explains why those who identify with it, instead of devoting themselves to the interests of local Muslims, have chosen to enter a death pact. There is no political perspective, no bright future, not even a place to pray in peace. But while the concept of the caliphate is indeed part of the Muslim religious imagination, the same cannot be said for the pursuit of death.

Additionally, suicide terrorism is not even effective from a military standpoint. While some degree of rationality can be found in “simple” terrorism – in which a few determined individuals inflict considerable damage on a far more powerful enemy – it is entirely absent from suicide attacks. The fact that hardened militants are used only once is not rational. Terrorist attacks do not bring western societies to their knees – they only provoke a counter-reaction. And this kind of terrorism today claims more Muslim than western lives. . .

Continue reading.

The article is in effect describing the evolution of memes. Try reading it from that perspective.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 April 2017 at 3:30 pm

What the Data Really Show about Terrorists Who “Came Here,” Part I: Introduction and Overview

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Nora Ellingsen and Lisa Daniels have a multi-part post at Lawfare, with only Part 1 so far posted:

In late February, during his address to a Joint Session of Congress, President Trump claimed, that, “according to data provided by the Department of Justice, the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offense since 9/11 came here from outside of our country.”

A week later, in the revised Executive Order restricting entry from six countries, the administration declared that, “Since 2001, hundreds of persons born abroad have been convicted of terrorism-related crimes in the United States.”

The White House has offered no data from the Justice Department in support of either of these claims.

Both turn out to have serious factual problems.

A few weeks before the President’s speech, one of us wrote a piece in response to the first travel ban Executive Order, a piece which analyzed FBI arrests of international terrorism subjects over the previous two years. The post identified a trend that undermined the security rationale behind the administration’s new immigration restrictions: Natural-born U.S. citizens accounted for 76 percent of international terrorism subjects arrested by the FBI.

As the original article acknowledged, that dataset was limited. When tracking arrests, the piece relied on the Justice Department’s own press releases over the previous two years. Cases that the Justice Department reasonably wouldn’t want to bring to the public’s attention—including cases that were sealed or operationally sensitive—weren’t included in the dataset or the analysis. But the limited data available seemed to cut against the idea that the criminal terrorist cases in the United States were predominantly a problem of foreign origin. And that made both Trump’s statement in his joint session address—particularly insofar as it was sourced to Justice Department data—and the claims in the revised executive order itself a bit jarring.

Another thing happened around the same time: A new, more comprehensive dataset became available to the public. Shirin Sinnar at Stanford Law School received under a Freedom of Information Act request from 2015 the National Security Division’s list of public and unsealed international terrorism and terrorism-related convictions from September 11, 2001 to December 31, 2015. Writing at Just Security, she pointed out that this list had previously been provided in early 2015 to the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and National Interest, chaired at the time by none other than then Senator Jeff Sessions. The subcommittee had conducted its own open-source research on the immigration status of each defendant and the results were published in February 2017 by the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that favors lower immigration numbers. Fox News and Stephen Miller ran with CIS’s headline: “Study Reveals 72 Terrorists Came from Countries Covered by Trump Vetting Order,” while the Washington Post fact-checked the study. The Post noted that some of the individuals on the list had entered the United States years before they conducted any crime and many of those individuals were not bomb makers, they engaged in more innocuous activities such as transferring money.

This new dataset provided an opportunity to evaluate both Trump’s statement in his joint session address and the factual claims of the executive order itself. This series of posts detail the result of that inquiry.

Here’s the bottom line:

  • The data Trump cited in his speech to the Joint Session of Congress simply don’t support his claims that a “vast majority” of individuals on the list came from outside the United States—unless, that is, you include individuals who were forcibly brought to the United States in order to be prosecuted and exclude all domestic terrorism cases.
  • While the data do validate the Executive Order on its statement that hundreds of convicted individuals were born overseas, it actually doesn’t support the policy the executive order embodies.
  • Of the hundreds of foreign-born individuals, the vast majority were born in countries not covered by the Executive Order.
  • And of the relatively small number of individuals from covered countries—which total 43—the clear majority come from only two countries (Somalia and Yemen), while a vanishingly small percentage of that come from Iran, Sudan, Libya or Syria.

In this first post, we describe our approach to analyze this data and give an overview of our factual findings. In later posts, we will analyze the data country by country to examine which countries are and are not exporting terrorists to the United States; consider what happens to the data if one includes domestic terrorism cases, as well as international terrorism cases; and offer concluding thoughts on what one can and cannot responsibly say about the relationship between terrorism and country of origin and also about whether “entry” into the United States is a meaningful feature of terrorist crimes in the first place.


This inquiry was labor intensive because the Justice Department’s list does not include material about the country of origin of terrorist defendants—we suspect because the Justice Department may not actually keep or have such data, which generally are not relevant to the criminality of the suspects. Whether there exist internal data within the Justice Department that supports the President’s claim we do not purport to know. But if such data do exist, as we will show, they would have to be quite different from the list of cases NSD released in response to Sinnar’s FOIA request.

Here’s what we did: We went through the raw list of cases and, using our own open source research, determined the country of origin for each individual defendant on the Justice Department’s list.

Our dataset comprises the National Security Division’s list of public or unsealed terrorism-related convictions from 2001 to 2015. There are 627 individuals on this list. We excluded from our analysis the convictions of 118 of these individuals, which “arose from the nationwide investigation conducted after September 11, 2001.”

It may seem odd to exclude everyone convicted in the 9/11 investigation from such an analysis; it is necessary to do so for a variety of reasons. Most importantly, the Justice Department is candid that it is unable to confirm whether these individuals had an actual nexus to terrorism: “Individuals whose convictions arose from this initial terrorism investigation were included on the chart at that time regardless of whether investigators developed or identified evidence that they had any connection to international terrorism.” This investigation was sprawling and lots of people got swept up in it and were prosecuted for matters having nothing to do with the underlying subject of probe. The result, as Sinnar explains, is that we can’t assume that a nexus to terrorism did exist for most of these convictions. Additional practical reasons advised against including these defendants in our analysis. Given the age of the convictions, fewer public records are available online, and determining country of origin for each defendant grows increasingly difficult with each passing year.

We used open source material to attempt to determine the country of origin for the remaining 508 individuals. We were able to do so for 455 of these persons. We have excluded from our analysis the 53 persons for whom we were unable to determine places of birth. So unless otherwise stated, the analysis below considers a total set of the 455 individuals for whom we were able to identify nationality, who were convicted of terrorism-related offense between September 11, 2001 and December 31, 2015, and who were not charged in connection with matters arising out of the original 9/11 investigation.

It’s important to emphasize that the bounds of the dataset here artificially inflate the percentage of foreign-born subjects. In other words, the very dataset we’re consulting is the one most apt to support the administration’s position. As Sinnar pointed out, the list doesn’t include any individuals convicted of domestic terrorism offenses; the Justice Department only released the names of individuals who were convicted of international terrorism offenses; these individuals are dramatically more likely to be foreign born than people convicted of domestic terrorism crimes. Consequently, Sinnar noted, we can only draw limited conclusions from the dataset: “If you exclude all convictions for ‘domestic terrorism’ at the outset, how can you draw any overall conclusions on the citizenship status or national origin of those convicted of terrorism?”

We focus here on the country of origin for each terrorism defendant not because we think country of origin is an especially illuminating metric, but because it is necessary to evaluate the veracity of Trump’s two claims: (1) that the “vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offense since 9/11 came here from outside of our country,” and (2) that “[s]ince 2001, hundreds of persons born abroad have been convicted of terrorism-related crimes in the United States.” The immigration status of these persons is thus generally irrelevant to our analysis. We have, however, included notations on individual’s citizenship or immigration status that we discovered through our research for the purpose of showing that many foreign-born persons committed and were convicted of terrorism-related offenses only after spending years in the United States and, in some cases, becoming naturalized citizens. This finding cuts against the notion that foreign-born persons sought to enter the United States for the purpose of engaging in terrorism on US soil.

Figure 1

What Do the Data Show?

Let’s start with the President’s statement that “according to data provided by the Department of Justice, the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offense since 9/11 came here from outside of our country.”

In some very technical sense, this is true. Of the 455 persons, 132 are U.S.-born and 323 were born abroad. So yes, since 2001, a substantial majority of terrorist defendants have been born abroad.

But there’s a big problem: 100 of the 323 persons born abroad were extradited, or brought, to the United States for prosecution. This is a group of persons that the U.S. quite literally imported for purposes of prosecution. Including such people in the count of foreign-born folks convicted of terrorism-related crimes in the U.S. is a little like considering Chinese made products domestic products because we bought them and brought them here. Excluding that group leaves 220 foreign-born persons, which is not quite a majority at all, let alone an overwhelming one.

(If you’re paying attention to the math here, you might have noticed that the numbers do not quite add up to the total universe of 455 persons. This is because for three individuals—Muhammed Abid Hussain, Yildirim Beyozit Tumer, and Mohamed Suleiman Al-Nafi—we were able to determine country of origin, but were unable to determine whether these persons had been arrested on U.S. soil, or had been extradited from another state.)

In all of the extradition or capture cases, nothing in the defendants’ public court records suggest that the individual had ever tried to immigrate to the US; and if they did, immigration policies at the time were sufficient to deny them entry. To be clear, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2017 at 11:24 am

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